Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clarke has revealed she suffered multiple brain aneurysms at the age of 24 – and is lucky to be alive.
In a piece for the New Yorker, she explained that she was doing a plank (an exercise move) when she had an uncomfortable sensation in her head, which she likened to an elastic band squeezing her brain.
Taking a break, she rushed to the toilet where she was violently sick. “Meanwhile, the pain—shooting, stabbing, constricting pain—was getting worse,” she wrote. “At some level, I knew what was happening: my brain was damaged.”
Clarke was rushed to hospital where she was sent for an MRI scan and medics discovered she had a subarachnoid hemorrhage. This had occurred as a result of a brain aneurysm – where a blood vessel in the brain bulges like a balloon, caused by a weakness in the blood vessel wall.
Most brain aneurysms only cause noticeable symptoms if they burst, according to the NHS, which leads to a subarachnoid haemorrhage. Symptoms include a sudden agonising headache (described as a “thunderclap headache”), stiff neck, sickness and vomiting, and pain when looking at the light.
Roughly three in five people who have a subarachnoid haemorrhage die within two weeks – and half of those who survive are left with severe brain damage and/or disability.
Some known risk factors for developing a brain aneurysm include smoking, having high blood pressure, and a family history of brain aneurysms. While it’s more common in those aged over 40, that’s not to say young people don’t experience it, and it’s more common in women than in men.
Clarke recalled how she was rushed into brain surgery for three hours to seal the aneurysm: “When I woke, the pain was unbearable. I had no idea where I was. My field of vision was constricted. There was a tube down my throat and I was parched and nauseated.”
During one of the tests after the aneurysm, she couldn’t remember her own name. It was particularly terrifying for her, said Clarke, as being an actor she needed to be able to remember her own lines.
The confusion and memory loss was a result of aphasia, a condition which can occur after an aneurysm. It soon passed, but she was later told she had a smaller aneurysm on the other side of her brain which doctors wanted to keep an eye on. This later caused her all kinds of problems, which she had to have further brain surgery for.
Clarke said that she is now at 100% and is supporting the charity SameYou, which provides treatment for people recovering from brain injuries and stroke.